Peru’s BREIT future
Data can contain significant untapped value, like a virtual ocean teeming with insights that can lead to better decision-making in industry, society, and policy. The mission of the Brescia Institute of Technology (BREIT) is to train data scientists who can fish in that ocean — and bring the value of what they catch to Peru.
BREIT’s Advanced Program in Data Science & Global Skills, developed in partnership with IDSS, provides training in the technical and nontechnical skills needed to take advantage of the insights that data can offer. Members complete the MIT MicroMasters in Statistics and Data Science, an online program developed by IDSS faculty that teaches the foundations of statistics, probability, data analysis, and machine learning.
Meanwhile, these learners are equipped with career skills from communication and critical thinking to team-building and ethics. The aim is to develop problem-solvers and leaders — and to accelerate that development, the program also offers hands-on opportunities to apply these skills to data projects with local NGOs.
IDSS and BREIT share a mission of advancing data science education, and both see the potential for these analytical skills to data for the greater good. Through a strategic education partnership IDSS provides support in implementing the MicroMasters program — from developing a technical assessment that helps prepare and recruit learners to providing expert TAs for each class, many of them IDSS grad students.
The MicroMasters program boasts hundreds of thousands of learners around the world. One of the draws of the BREIT program is that learners are grouped into cohorts that move through the program together. Cohort members often form study groups, share perspectives from different fields, and socialize. Some receive scholarships supported by its sponsors.
Five such groups, each with 20-25 learners, have engaged with the program so far. The first cohort finished earlier this year; the fifth began this fall. Earlier cohorts had students from Lima only, but the program now engages learners throughout the country. With each iteration, BREIT has refined their method of recruiting in order to assess readiness for the rigorous program — and to surface talent.
To help with this challenge, IDSS designed and built a technical assessment tool for the program to gauge applicants familiarity with prerequisite knowledge like calculus, elementary linear algebra, and basic programming in Python. With some randomization to the questions and automatic grading, this quiz made determining potential for the Advanced Program in Data Science & Global Skills easier for BREIT, while also helping applicants see where they might need to brush up on their skills.
After a cohort is selected, they take on their first MicroMasters course — no small feat, as each course was designed by MIT faculty with expertise and experience at the cutting edge of computing and data analysis, who are also at the forefront of many efforts to apply these methods and tools to a variety of challenges in industry and society.
Fortunately, BREIT learners get an additional piece of the MIT experience: a knowledgeable Teaching Assistant who offers feedback, answers questions, and talks through examples. In addition to holding regular practice sessions and review sessions before tests, TAs also help learners understand key concepts with supplemental guides and study materials.
The Advanced Program in Data Science & Global Skills includes training in skills additional to the technical knowledge contained in the MicroMasters. Through BREIT’s weekly Global Skills classes, participants develop talents like communication, teamwork, leadership, creativity, and critical thinking. The curriculum is also complemented by BREITalks, where learners hear the latest from data practitioners and industry leaders.
To provide opportunities to apply these skills as they are being learned, BREIT works with local NGOs to develop data projects. Care Peru, for example, is a social justice NGO striving to defeat poverty; a student project involved building them a standardized database for childhood poverty data, and a dashboard to help users access information. Projects span fields like education, policy, and healthcare, but all address societal challenges through the analysis of data using tools from statistics and computing.
Already these projects are having real impacts. Eleven non-profits have been involved in BREIT’s Integrative Challenge, with one solution reported on by local media: the “Preventiometer.” This tool helps users understand their risk of getting cancer based on their habits and a variety of variables like where they live, and offers information about preventative screenings. So far, it’s been used by over 10,000 people.
As BREIT plans cohorts for 2022, the graduates of their first cohort are moving into data roles in a variety of fields. The vision is ambitious, and leaders at both BREIT and IDSS are excited to see how data-informed decision-making will strengthen Peru’s economy and deliver solutions to local challenges.
“BREIT aspires to be the institution that leads the way on closing the technological skill gap in Peru,” says Gianmarco Tagliarino, member of the Executive Council at Aporta, the social impact platform that runs the program. “Through affordable, cutting-edge educational programs, we are training and developing the next generations to be agents of change for a positive social impact in Peru.”